CANNES, France -- Woody Allen's love affair with France, which goes back at least 30 years, finds its consummation with "Midnight in Paris," the latest of Allen's tourist-board brochures from foreign ports of call, which opened the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday. (His next movie will be made in Rome. Yes, really.) It's no surprise that premiere audiences here ate up this lightweight, rather silly fantasy about the eternal allure of the City of Light. But the good news is that Allen seems to be paying attention in a way he hasn't always done in recent films, and has found a way to channel his often-caustic misanthropy, half-comic fear of death and anti-American bitterness into agreeable comic whimsy.
Of all the leading men Allen has hired to stand in for him as the awkward, lovelorn, fatally talky writer-type hero since he stopped appearing in his own movies (a list that includes Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman, Josh Brolin and, unhappily, Larry David), none has seemed less suited to the role than Owen Wilson. As Allen explained to the press corps here, he cast Wilson as frustrated Hollywood screenwriter Gil Pender -- who sees a Paris vacation as a chance to start over -- precisely because Wilson was a "California beach boy" who didn't remind the director of himself. However it works, it works pretty well; Wilson may not possess immense range or dramatic technique, but I've always enjoyed him. He's masterful with subtle, slow-burn comedy and can be a gentle screen presence in a way Allen never is. Gil is a naive, almost feral creature, wonderfully unfazed by the farcical and magical adventures that befall him.
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